Mental Health

Setting Boundaries Brought Up Messy Feelings and a Past I’d Rather Forget

Content warning: It’s about to get messy. I’m feeling anxious about setting some much needed boundaries. But doing so has brought up feelings I’d rather not feel, most of which stem from moments in my childhood that my therapist classified as chronic, low-level, emotional abuse (fun times) and memories of being bullied in school. Should I work these things out with my therapist? Yes, but he’s two hours away and $135 for a session, so…I’m working on it here. Also, I should mention, I’m not looking for advice.

All I’ve done is decide to respond to a few less emails than I used to and openly tell people that they’ll need to pay for services I provide — like critiquing their work, advising them on a specific issue, etc. That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less.

Most people (especially those who provide services themselves) understand. The vast majority of people who request my time and energy understand.

It seems simple. Basic. A no-brainer.

Tell that to the part of me that feels physical pain at the thought of someone being upset with me. The part of my psyche that actively avoids displeasure and rejection.

Of course, most of us avoid upsetting people. None of us want or enjoy rejection (unless that’s your kink, of course).

Avoiding Anger

But in the moment, I’m transported back to little kid me who wilted under the glare of a father who’s anger never really matched the offense. I’m back in the state of watching every facial expression, listening to every nuanced tone, all to un-do the damage, make him happy with me again, be loved again.

Anything to not be the only person in our very small family ignored for anywhere from a few hours to a few days until his anger burns out.

Shit, that sounds so much worse here than in my head. I guess my therapist was right.

When he was really angry at me, he’d speak in nicer tones to our dog than he did to me. And yes, of course, I noticed.

So I walked on eggshells. Did very little to upset him. Learned what would make him happy and tried to ALWAYS perform to that level. Anything to avoid the anger. A people-pleasing, perfectionist was born.

Acts of Service Gone Wrong

At the same time, I have always been someone who showed affection, influenced people, and made friends through acts of service. It’s my strongest love language to give. I believe it’s part of why I’m a submissive.

It’s also why offering advice, sharing my knowledge, and wanting to help kinksters and bloggers alike is so important to me. This is me serving the communities I care about.

But I’m not always smart about it either.

I take care of my friends to a stupid degree. Running away with my middle school bestie so I could take care of her “on the road” — we didn’t get very far. Letting my high school bestie talk me into ridiculously stupid antics and then taking the blame when her parents decided she was the angel, and I the devil.

Those aren’t services, but I gave of myself. It’s how I showed love. It’s how I made friends…and kept them. My poor mother spent so much time trying to convince me they weren’t really my friends. She was right, but I was so lonely. And so afraid of upsetting anyone and of rejection.

These days I respond to dozens of messages a week, encouraging, helping, supporting my chosen communities. And while I love it, I also do too much of it. I give to others until I have nothing left to give. But if I’m not giving, how will anyone know I exist? Why would they want to like me? To follow me? So I give and I give…and I give. It’s an act of service that I love that’s  detrimental to my health and my time.

But I also served to avoid anger.

Middle school bullies suck. Riding a school bus sucks. John Brownstone can’t understand why I’d rather drive my kids to school. But I know. I remember.

The amount of people who demanded to see my homework, copy from me, and get the answers on the ride to school was ridiculous. When I (understandably) said no, they’d start with cajoling, then guilt, then bullying.

It was a formula I knew well. I avoided some form of it at home all the time.

So I gave in. Told myself that people liked me more when I helped with their homework or gave them answers.

Being useful and of use made people happy. They were less displeased with me. It kept the peace. I so desperately wanted peace.

It didn’t last forever, but long enough to be a memory that flares up at a time like this.

A Go-Along, Get-Along Person

I’m the kind of person who sort of just goes along with whatever. If I don’t like something, I quietly withdraw. I don’t get into debates with people about their opinions (especially online). No, I don’t tolerate bigotry, but I won’t correct someone when they’re wrong about stupid small stuff that doesn’t matter.

But it goes deeper than that. If you screw up my legal name, I probably won’t correct you. It doesn’t matter, right? Let’s just keep everyone happy. No need to annoy or offend. If you assume I am or am not married to John Brownstone (I am), I won’t tell you different. It doesn’t matter if you’re wrong or have the wrong impression of things because it’s easier to go along with you.

Sounds fucked up, doesn’t it? It is.

I have opinions. Listen to a single podcast episode, and you know I do.

I have principles. Hopefully I make them known consistently and clearly.

You can dislike my content or the way I present it, and I’m okay with that.

But that’s in my role as someone presenting information, talking to groups. Groups don’t bother me. Unknown individuals and their unknown responses do.

I want to be liked and I kind of hate it

I’m still that little kid who just wants everyone to like me. Because if you like me (so the warped thinking goes) you won’t get mad at me. If you don’t get mad at me, I don’t have to deal with your anger or that sick feeling in my stomach. I don’t have to be scared.

I spend my life attempting to keep a balance between being uniquely myself and keeping people happy. If you like me for one reason, my brain tells me that I can’t switch things up on you. Because you only like me for that reason. If I do something different, you’ll reject me. If you reject me, you might get angry. When I anger you, I’ve done a bad thing, and I’m no longer helping you.

It’s fucked up, and I know it’s fucked up, and I’m working on it.

Telling people that I can’t give and give and give and give of my time and energy is the right thing to do. But my scared, traumatized little kid self still lives deep inside. And she’s freaking the fuck out. I’m waiting for the indignant anger, the person who accuses me of making false promises, of lying, of being fake, of whatever my anxiety can conceive of.

And my body is preparing to deal with those emotions. I’m in a weird flight or freeze mode. I don’t fight, lol, that’s WAY too confrontational. So I don’t know if I need to run and hide or stay very, very still and do nothing. It’s fucking exhausting.

It’s also unnecessary.

I tell people all day long that most people aren’t paying nearly as much attention to you as you think they are. I also know that I do the work I do for the people I’m the right fit for. And not everyone has to like me, follow me, or be in my weird world. AND I believe all of that, body and soul.

But setting boundaries, as important as it is, has sent me spiraling in a way I didn’t anticipate. Bringing up feelings and memories I’d rather not deal with.

I’ll be fine. I’ve got John Brownstone to lean on. I’ve got genuine friends in the kink and sex blogging communities. This isn’t my first time facing my past demons in an effort to better my present.

The topic for this week’s Sex Bloggers for Mental Health is triggers which I didn’t know when I wrote this blog post. I hesitate to use the term “triggered” but I never mean it lightly. It was certainly a strange moment when my therapist told me that my childhood had resulted in some level of PTSD which I guess the headspace I’m in and the way it made me feel was likely a part of.

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About the author

Kayla Lords

I am an erotic author, sex blogger, podcaster, freelance writer, an opinionated marketer, and speaker. You can find me online sharing my innermost sexual thoughts and experiences, teaching other bloggers how to make money writing about sex, and helping kinksters have healthy BDSM relationships. I'm also a masochistic babygirl submissive with an amazing and sadistic Daddy Dom and business partner, John Brownstone. Welcome to my kinky corner of the internet!

18 Comments

  • Ooooh, buddy, I feel this. Feel this to my core. It’s hard to get through it, hard to deal with the emotions and physical reactions from it. Thankfully, we’re not alone when we start feeling it, and we can get through it with our support network. Hoping and wishing the best for you! ❤️❤️❤️

  • Thanks for linking this to sb4mh – I think it is fine to set the boundaries – it is the sane thing to do – I do hope the spiraling straightens out 😉 x

  • Hi Kayla,

    I love reading your work and listening to your podcasts. I’ve listened to Smutlancer the longest, but I’m also such a big fan of you and John Brownstone on Loving BDSM. I’m a podcast listener because by the end of the work day, I can hardly look at a screen and read anymore–I do it all damn day lol, and I sometimes just don’t have it in me to read a single text from a friend, let alone answer it.

    Setting boundaries is so important–you only have so much energy to give in a day, and a lot of that goes to your family. You only have so much left over for yourself, and self-care is crucial!

    As a writer and someone who wants to build some good kinky friendships in the BDSM community, I’ve wanted to reach out to you myself. Just to chat, just because you seem so cool and down to earth and funny to talk to.

    With your experience, you have so much to offer, and I’m sure people want your help/advice/etc. We also need to stop and think about how we can support YOU, and not the other way around. I enjoy reading/listening, and I get so much out of your work, so I share and hope to help you expand your audience. Thank you for sharing your kinky fuckery and for being so awesome!

    • Thank you so much for this! I want to give so much more than I do, but I’ve had to learn (the hard way, of course) that my attention and energy are finite. Thank you for listening and sharing and being there.

  • I can relate to a lot of what you said, and I think the behaviour that you describe is called fawning, as in the fawn response in those with childhood trauma. It is very very common, and it is about soothing others so we don’t get hurt. And while doing that, we forget our own needs, our own boundaries. Because we are afraid someone will get angry, hurt us or make us feel bad. I like the honesty of this post, and I very much hope that you will be able to stick to those boundaries you seem to have started to implement!

    • I think I’ve heard that term before but didn’t know the meaning. I’m reminded of (whoever said) the idea that some of what we do today was to protect ourselves in a past we’re no longer living. 30+ years ago, these behaviors kept me safe. Now, they’re a detriment.

  • Thanks for sharing this, Kayla. As someone who has fallen over backwards and worn myself into the ground in fruitless attempts just to make people like me, I really felt this. Good for you for setting boundaries, all power!👍

  • The further I read, the more I felt this kind of chill in my body. At times it was like you were describing me… father’s anger, taking the blame for a friend, avoiding confrontations, always going along with others, afraid that when you set your boundaries, others will get angry with you… it’s all too close to home for me. But, Kayla, you are right to set your boundaries. You are right to preserve your energy. I totally understand your anxiety about this, but you are quite right to do what you did.

    Rebel xox

  • Wow Kayla, did I ever need to read this ❤️ thank you so much for describing the nuances of this situation so beautifully and powerfully. I’ve withdrawn from my blogging recently to deal with a similar set of feelings. I’m only now, in the past few months realising how the damage done in childhood has manifested itself. Words I want to express tumble over themselves in my head and my blog is left empty.
    Thank you for writing this. Thank you. And the comment reply about how what we do to protect ourselves in early life now becomes detrimental.
    You are fantastic Kayla ❤️❤️❤️ again thank you, for everything x x

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